March 11, 2024 

Sights and sounds from Richmond’s first A-10 Tournament title

The Spiders are going dancing for the first time since 2005

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — The stands at the Henrico Sports & Event Center started to fill up around an hour before tip of the 2024 Atlantic 10 Championship game. As the minutes passed tipoff neared, gone was the sight of the navy blue-colored seats.

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Instead, the vast majority of the fans filing in to see the No. 1 seed Richmond Spiders take on the No. 6 seed Rhode Island Rams in the A-10 Tournament championship game made the supposedly neutral site feel like a Spiders home game. This was due, in large part, to the 14-mile distance between the title game site and Richmond’s campus. 

Fans clad in primarily bright red standing while either waving rally towels or applauding.
Richmond fans celebrate their team’s first Atlantic 10 championship at the Henrico Sports & Event Center in Henrico County, Virginia on March 10, 2024. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume | Atlantic 10 Conference)

The sea of red rose to their feet with 57 seconds left to play as Richmond took a timeout for substitution, applauding their team from every corner of the arena. The cheers continued through the next 20 seconds of gameplay when the Spiders took another timeout, subbing seniors Grace Townsend and Siobhan Ryan who then shared extended hugs with head coach Aaron Roussell and their assistant coaches.

The cheers and applause got louder as sophomore forward Maggie Doogan dribbled the ball on the top-right of the center court logo. As time expired, she threw the ball into the air and it bounced off the bottom of the jumbotron and onto the other side of the court. 

Doogan joined her teammates in jumping up and down, celebrating the team’s 65-51 win over Rhode Island. The band began playing and confetti exploded in the corner of the court, not quite reaching the Richmond team that was celebrating on the championship logo at center court. 

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Before talking to Washington Mystics general manager Mike Thibault as part of the ESPN2 broadcast postgame, Roussell came to the sideline opposite his bench to wave to the fans. After he finished his television interview, Roussell waved to the fans again before grabbing his championship hat and shirt. 

In his fifth season at the helm, Roussell led Richmond to the team’s first Atlantic 10 tournament championship and first NCAA Tournament berth since 2005 and fourth overall. Three double-digit wins in three days were capped off by the team’s 14-point win over Rhode Island Sunday afternoon in front of more than 3,000 fans.

While some may say it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season, Roussell believes that defeating Rhode Island twice in the regular season, after going 0-6 against Rhode Island in his first four seasons, gave the team more confidence heading into the third game with a short turnaround. Richmond was in control of the game from the start, disrupting Rhode Island’s offense while knocking down its own shots. The Spiders shot at least 50% from the floor each quarter until the fourth, when they shot 46.2%, finishing with a 51.0% field goal percentage in the championship game. 

The team was led by all-tournament team member Doogan, who had 18 points on 6-9 shooting from the floor, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block. She was joined on the all-tournament team by two of her teammates: Townsend who finished with 13 points, six rebounds and five assists, and the tournament’s most outstanding player senior forward Addie Budnik. Budnik made 13 3-pointers and shot 59% from behind the arc in Richmond’s three games. She had 14 points, four rebounds, two assists and two blocks against Rhode Island.

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After the team’s semifinal win over Duquesne on March 9, Budnik told reporters how she worked to improve her shot over her four seasons at Richmond. She shot 32.4% from the floor as a freshman and has steadily improved to shooting 41.5% from the floor this season.  

“Just a lot of time in the gym,” she said. “Honestly, it’s kind of hard with our team to get in the gym, it’s so crowded, just trying to get on the gun and work with coaches. And they’ve done a great job of developing us and making sure we’re able to hit shots within our offense. That’s really paid off, just cumulating over these four years. You’re seeing it right now.”

The 9-0 run the Spiders started the second half with made Roussell emotional. “There was a point in this game, man, where I was gonna lose it crying, just watching them play basketball. Like, not so much that you’re happy for them … it was like you’re just letting them go. Some of this has [been being] hard on them over the years. Some of this has been challenging them over the years. To watch them play, especially those first three, four minutes coming out of halftime, was the proudest parent moment that you could ever imagine.”

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After losing to UMass in the semifinals of the A-10 Tournament last season, Roussell said the potential and future of his program was bright. “I think we can take some solace in the fact that obviously, we’ve come a long way as a program,” he said. “I think we can look back at this season and say it’s a great building block for the future for this program.”

Winning two games in the A-10 Tournament and winning a game in the WNIT last season helped his players understand how far this program has come. The experience also helped the team at this season’s Vibrant Thanksgiving Classic, hosted by Drake, where the Spiders defeated Maine, Drake and Louisiana Tech. Playing three games in three days in November allowed the team to prepare to both play, and attempt to win, three games in three days in the A-10 Tournament. 

“With recovery, with how we went into it, with the days off leading up to that we treated that Friday, Saturday, Sunday as this is preparation for this tournament,” Roussell said after defeating Duquesne on March 9. “… I just thought the routine that we got our kids in — not to sound presumptuous, because you never know if you’re going to get to this spot — was planned to try and mimic everything we’re seeing this weekend.”

Ryan believes the team is playing its best basketball and played the calmest it had all season against Rhode Island. “Going into this, I expected more nerves out of myself and the team but honestly, I think all the preparation we had done all season led us to be super calm in this moment, very poised, very under control,” she said. “And that’s what led us to have the amount of energy that we had. We weren’t scared, we weren’t worried — we were just prepared.”

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The three seniors at the press conference, Budnik, Ryan and Townsend, looked back to their first preseason in 2020 when they were on grass fields at 7 a.m., running sprints, “in the dirt,” with Covid as the backdrop.

“That most definitely pushed us to our limits and brought some toughness into us,” Budnik said. “But also this summer, just regrouping, teaching the young people kind of the system, our offense, but also building off of all the experience from the year before … it all just started clicking and coming together.”

Roussell debuted a new pair of sneakers designed by Richmond men’s basketball player Quentin Southall during Richmond’s game against Loyola Chicago. They had been joking about Roussell needing to up his shoe game, but he didn’t want designing a pair of sneakers for him to impact Southall’s student-athlete experience. Southall said he’d be able to get the shoes done before the game against the Ramblers, and he did.

“I’ve said this about Q — man, he is better at making shoes than any of us are at doing anything. Like he is so incredible at what he does making these shoes,” Roussell said. While Southall offered to send over designs to make sure Roussell liked them, Roussell trusted him. “When we opened the box, it was like, ‘Coach you absolutely have to wear these,’” he recalled after the championship win. “Like I already was [planning on] wearing them.” Roussell wore them for every game of the A-10 Tournament and said they were coming with him to the NCAA Tournament. 

Richmond head coach Aaron Roussell waves the championship net around at the top of the ladder after cutting it down.
Richmond head coach Aaron Roussell waves the championship net around after leading his team to its first Atlantic 10 Tournament title at the Henrico Sports & Event Center in Henrico County, Virginia on March 10, 2024. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume | Atlantic 10 Conference)

Roussell was the last one to cut down the net, clutching the closed blades of the scissors as he carefully climbed the ladder. After cutting down the remainder of the net, he pointed to the crowd, swung the net around, climbed down and then went to embrace his wife and one of his daughters as he basked in the ongoing championship celebration. 

The net did eventually change hands. As he, Townsend, Budnik and Ryan entered the room and approached the stage, Townsend had the large piece of net around her neck and her personal piece of net in her hand, which she continued to fiddle with while sitting behind the microphone. 

“Well, we ran into each other, we gave each other a hug, and he asked me if I wanted it, and I said yeah. So, here I am,” she said, laughing as she finished her sentence. “He just said — don’t lose it.” Her plan to make sure that didn’t happen was simple: “It’s not coming off at all, I’m keeping it on at all times.” 

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Senior guard Grace Townsend smiles with her A-10 championship hat and t-shirt on with the championship net around her neck like a necklace.
Senior guard Grace Townsend was all smiles at the press conference after she helped lead her team to Richmond’s first Atlantic 10 championship, punching the team’s ticket to the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2005 at the Henrico Sports & Event Center in Henrico County, Virginia on March 10, 2024. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume | Atlantic 10 Conference)

Townsend was still wearing it when she left the building for the last time this weekend as an A-10 champion.

Surreal was the word of the day — according to Ryan — for the trio who have gone 79-39 in four seasons at Richmond and helped the program set a single-season wins record. The Spiders stand at 29 wins this season, and they still have more basketball left to play. 

“It’s so surreal that it doesn’t feel real,” Townsend said. “And it’s like, we just won the game. But I don’t think we realize what we really just did, for not only to ourselves but for the program and the people behind us coming. And I think that’s a testament to how hard we’ve worked, how we’ve invested in ourselves as much as the coaching staff has, and I’m so glad we stayed true to the process and hopefully it feels real one day.”

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Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently writes about the Atlantic 10 conference, the WNBA and the WBL.

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